2016 a good year for UK companies and researchers at the European Patent Office


  • Upward trend for UK companies and inventors in both European patent applications filed and European patents granted
  • Patents granted to UK applicants up 40%, strongest growth in ten years
  • Rolls Royce remained top UK patent applicant at the EPO
  • Transport most important technology field
  • Medical technology, Computer technology, and Chemistry drove growth in patent applications
  • East of England and South East England with greatest increase in patent applications

Brussels/Munich, 7 March 2017 – UK businesses filed 5 142 patent applications with the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2016, an increase of +1.8% and the highest number since 2010. The UK thus bucked the trend of slightly decreasing patent applications from EU countries (Fig.: Growth of UK patent applications at the EPO). Last year, British companies and inventors were granted 2 931 patents[1] by the EPO (2015: 2 094) – the highest increase in ten years and a new record number of granted European patents. (Fig.: Growth of patents granted by the EPO to UK applicants)

Overall, the European Patent Office received nearly 160 000 European patent applications in 2016, on par with the peak reached the year before (Fig.: Growth of European patent applications). There was strong growth again in applications from China (+24.8%) and from South Korea (+6.5%), a decrease in applications from the US (-5.9%) and Japan (-1.9%), whilst the volume of patent applications originating from the 38 member states of the European Patent Organisation remained almost stable last year (-0.2%). The top five countries of origin of applications were the US, Germany, Japan, France and Switzerland. The UK ranked 9th. (Fig.: Origin of applications)

“The 2016 results confirm Europe’s attractiveness as a leading global marketplace for innovation,” said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. “In a rapidly changing political and economic landscape, companies from around the world have kept up their demand for patent protection in Europe. While we see impressive growth in applications from Asia, European companies maintain their role as drivers of innovation and economic growth in their home market, and are proving their resilience also in the face of unsettled economic conditions.”

Rolls Royce No.1 UK patent applicant for the second consecutive year
With 372 applications, Rolls Royce was the UK’s most active patent applicant at the EPO, followed by Unilever (237 applications), British Telecom (177), and BAE Systems (149). Oxford University was the highest ranked academic institution, climbing from 15th place in 2015 to 12th with 57 patent applications. (Fig. Top UK applicants at the EPO in 2016)

Transport and Medical technology most important UK technology fields
Transport, where many patent applications from the automotive, aeronautics and rail sectors are filed, was the UK’s main technology field with the highest number of patent applications for the second consecutive year, with a share of 7% of total UK applications at the EPO. The second most important field was Medical Technology, which increased its share of all UK applications from 5% in the previous year to 7% in 2016, followed by Measurement and Computer Technology, both fields with a 6% share. Within the ten most important technology fields, applications from the UK grew strongest in Basic Materials Chemistry (+24.5%), Medical technology (+22.4%), Biotechnology (20.9%) and Computer technology (+17%).

East of England and South East England with strongest regional growth
Greater London leads the regional ranking with a 30.2% share of all UK patent applications at the EPO (down from 31.8% in the previous year). (Fig: Leading UK regions for European patent applications) Greater London was also 9th European region for European patent applications. (Fig: Leading European regions for patent applications at the EPO). It was followed by East of England (11.7% share in 2016, up from 10.7% in the previous year), and South East England (11.2% share, up from 10.4%). These two regions also recorded the strongest growth among all UK regions (East of England +11.2%, and South East England +10.8%).

Varied activity across Europe
Among European countries there were marked differences in patenting activity at the EPO in 2016. Among the larger economies with higher patent application volumes, Belgium led the board, posting growth of 7% over 2015. Besides the UK, Italy (+4.5%), Austria (+2.6%), Spain (+2.6%), Switzerland (+2.5%) and Germany (+1.1%) also showed increases. Patent applications from France (-2.5%) and the Netherlands (-3.6%) dropped. The EPO also received fewer patent applications from some of the Nordic states, namely Finland (-8.8%), Sweden (-7.4%), and Denmark (-2.8%). (Fig.: Top 50 countries for applications)

Most patents filed in medical technology
Medical technology remained the field with the highest number of patent applications at the EPO (despite a slight drop of -2.1% in 2016), again followed by Digital communication and Computer technology. (Fig.: Technical fields with most applications). The strongest growth (of the top ten fields) was in Electrical machinery/apparatus/energy (+5.1%), followed by Transport (+3.6%) and Computer technology (+2.9%).

Philips heads EPO company ranking
Philips filed the most patent applications at the EPO in 2016, the second year running. Huawei was the new No. 2 (moving up from 11th in just three years), followed by Samsung, LG and United Technologies. The top 10 was made up of four companies from Europe, three from the US, two from Korea and one from China. (Fig.: Top 10 applicants in 2016)

For detailed statistics, and a report on activities in 2016, see the EPO’s annual report at: www.epo.org/annual-report2016

[1] Patents are granted by the EPO after a detailed examination process of the patent application ensuring it fulfils all the requirements of patent protection.

About the EPO
With more than 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Its headquarters are in Munich and it also has offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna. The EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO’s centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in the 38 member states of the European Patent Organisation. The EPO is also the world’s leading authority in patent information and patent searching.

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